Making the Olympics a showcase for IT

So far, the London 2012 Olympics has been a triumph all round. An amazing opening ceremony, Team GB gold medals sprinkled generously around, and even the transport system has coped.

Ironically, one area that has come in for criticism – albeit at a low level – has been aspects of the technology.

Fans at the cycling road race were told not to use their smartphones so much and to use social media less, after the overload on mobile networks meant that GPS data from the bikes were not relayed to broadcasters, leading to criticism of the TV coverage.

The ticketing website continues to attract complaints too – for a population used to real-time online purchasing, attempts to buy last-minute tickets have proved frustrating for all, and the site seems to struggle with the traffic.

We all knew this would be the most connected Games ever, but it just goes to show that for fans, technology is as integral to their Olympic experience as the venues and the sport itself. The London IT team has done a fantastic job overall – as has the BBC IT team behind the most comprehensive coverage of any sporting event in history – but there’s a big lesson for the International Olympic Committee and key IT supplier Atos to learn for Rio in 2016.

The approach to IT in London has been understandably low risk – Cisco, for example, was told it had to supply only proven products that had been on the market for several years. The Games was never intended to be a showcase for the latest technologies, no matter how much the public wants to use the latest devices to follow the action.

Looking ahead, surely there is a strong case to be made for cloud-enabling the Olympics. At the moment, organisers have to set up their own IT infrastructure every four years, often replicating with minor tweaks the systems used last time.

A cloud-based Olympics IT set-up would eliminate that effort – and cost – and also provide some consistency and elasticity for online ticket sales.

If the Olympics are a showcase for the best of sport, and for fans to demonstrate their love of technology, there is a great opportunity now to make it a showcase for the best of technology too.

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